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Bus Rides, Blisters and a Touch of Magic: My Experience with an On-the-Ground Job Search in Colombia
Written by: Rebecca Sirull
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
I’ve actually gone through two different English teaching job searches in South America, and had two extremely different experiences. When I first left the US, I was enrolled in the onsite TEFL course in Arequipa, Peru. The institute where I was certified also offered English courses, so it was an easy transition from student to teacher, with almost no job search effort required on my part.
I lived in Peru for about six months before deciding to move to Colombia. This time around, I wanted to make sure my school supported a work visa so I could stay for longer. Six months just wasn’t enough!
I used ITA’s school finder to email just about every school in Colombia, including a CV and cover letter with each one. I was mostly interested in teaching adults rather than children, so I focused on universities and private institutes, skipping the colegios (elementary/high schools.) While the response rate was lower than I’d hoped, I managed to line up a few interviews in Bogota and Medellin before I left Peru, but ultimately decided a better strategy would be to ask around at some institutes in person instead of being a faceless email from a different country. Off to Cali to begin my search!
Self Deprecating Humor Alert: Flash forward an afternoon of wandering around the city in uncomfortable shoes when I learned that I had just begun my starry-eyed quest smack dab in the middle of Christmas break. Cue the face palm! Before I left, I had even made the effort to look up peak hiring seasons, but it turns out that those only more-so apply to colegios and universities. Private institutes will hire year-round—or at least in the months when the school is actually open. For the record, most private English schools have their break from around December 15 to January 15. So save yourself the blisters and wait until mid-January to knock on some doors.
I decided to look on the bright side of my situation and do as the Colombians do—take a Christmas break! I had always regretted that I didn’t see as much of Peru as I had wanted to because I was basically working right up until I had to leave the country. I didn’t want that to happen in Colombia too, so I put the job search aside for a few weeks and took advantage of the beautiful countryside and amazing travel opportunities.
Eventually my carefree holiday came to an end, and while I continued traveling, this time I had more of a purpose. Every time I arrived in a new city, I printed off a stack of CVs and planned out a route, guided by a simple Google maps search of “English School.” I usually spent the better part of a day going around to the different schools and inquiring about job opportunities. At some places I was offered an interview on the spot, at others little more than a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Most places took my CV and promised to call if they had any openings, a couple of which turned into actual job offers.
This on-the-ground strategy not only let me make connections with many different companies, but also gave me the chance to get to know the cities. I usually spent another few days after my school visits just spending time in the place and seeing all it had to offer. I went to many of the major cities in Colombia, including Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta, and I did eventually make it to those interviews I had lined up in Bogota and Medellin.
Over the course of my travels, I made an unexpected stop in Bucaramanga and ended up falling in love with the city. A few days after walking around on my usual CV drop-off, I got a call from an institute that wanted me to come in for an interview. About a week later, I was teaching my first class!
The best advice I can give about job searching in Colombia is that there is no “by the book” way of doing things. Nearly every English teacher I’ve met has ended up in their current job through some strange coincidence or fortuitous meeting that they could not have planned out in advance if they’d tried. I only ended up in Bucaramanga because it was on the way to Medellin, and found my current school because it was across the street from a much bigger, more-established company, where I was intending to go. This country has a magical way of making things just work out if you’re willing to talk to enough people, take some chances, and open yourself up to the possibilities.
A native of Boston & a graduate of Northeastern University, International TEFL Academy alumna, Rebecca Sirull, has taught English abroad in both Peru and Colombia. She also has extensive experience teaching English online. As an ITA Alumni Ambassador, Rebecca has published numerous articles to share her experiences and insights on teaching English abroad with other ITA students looking to expand their horizons.
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